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Splinter Cell: Essentials is the first Splinter Cell game appearing on the PSP...and may well be the last. An average game with average presentation and awkward controls, Essentials will leave PSP owners disappointed.
I'll be blunt. This game earns very few marks for presentation. For a start, the menus look sterile, functional and down-right boring. Yes, they are only menus - but a developer that can't even be bothered to offer something here leaves questions to be answered. The cut-scenes are a mixed bag: they are stunning to look at and listen to, with semi-realistic graphic images and spot-on voice acting giving an outline of the story as you go along. But they are way too short, and don't give enough information to the gamer to be worth watching. Instead, the developers opted to put the mission summary in a wodge of text to be read while the game loads, meaning you can skip these scenes without missing too much. Luckily, you will have more than enough time to read this mass of text, and I mean ALL of it: the loading times are absolutely ridiculous on this game. Sometimes you'll literally spend longer waiting to play than actually playing.
Graphically, the game should be commended, and for this, Essentials is an enticing prospect. They literally mirror the graphics of the PS2 games, an impressive feat for such a small console and one which acts as the game's key highlight. Everything is ported brilliantly, looking exactly the same as its PS2 brethren with the shadow gauge and ammo remaining shown to the bottom right of the screen. Lighting is just as important here as it was in the other games, and the environments look as varied as in the PS2 games. The audio is also faithful to the series, with the voice actors reprising their roles here and the sound effects carbon copies of those in the other iterations.
Sadly, the game falls down where so many other PSP games have too: gameplay. The fact that the game is ported so faithfully is actually its downfall, and is so awkward to play at times that you'll just give up in fury. Whereas you had two analog sticks and a host of other buttons to use to move Sam Fisher on the PS2, the PSP simply can't handle the same depth of controls. The analog stick is used to move Fisher around, but, unlike in other PSP games, the sheer amount of buttons needed for a Splinter Cell game meant that the face buttons (triangle etc) couldn't be used to act as the 'right analog stick'. Let me give you an example of the predicament in play. You move left around a corner and want to see in front of you. In other PSP games, you'd simply move the stick left and hold the square button to move the view with it. On Essentials, you'll move the stick left, then have to stop, click and hold circle AND move the analog stick to the desired position. Believe me, if you're in a fire-fight on higher difficulty levels, you have no chance of surviving, let alone orientating the camera correctly. Frustrating? You have no idea.
Luckily, for those avid fans of the series, the PSP version does have the same bells and whistles as the PS2 games. The same climbing options, night vision goggles and ability to whistle are all here. It's just a shame they're no fun to use. The controls are so confusing and alien at first that it'll take you at least a couple of hours to get used to it, let alone play it. For those who persevere, the game can be very pleasing, and if you do try and get to grips with it, I can imagine the gameplay would improve too. But this is a portable title, made for on-the-move play. It shouldn't need hours of orientation, but should be pick up and play, and I for one don't have the patience to spend a whole train journey learning how to play a level rather than actually playing it. I guess this is just the result of porting such a complex game onto a portable device.
This is by no means a bad Splinter Cell game. It is faithful to the series, has great audio and looks like the spitting image of its PS2 brethren. Sadly, it fails on the one thing that matters most: gameplay. It is difficult, frustrating and fiddly, all the things you don't want when playing on the go. If you intend to treat this game with the same amount of time as a console version, you'll find it a blast. Sadly, I fear that most people looking for a simplified but enjoyable version of the PS2 hit will be left as disappointed as I was.
Immediately following the events of Splinter Cell Double Agent, Sam Fisher is placed under arrest and brought to the NSA Headquarters. As a government interrogator pressures him to confess his involvement in terrorist activities, whatever the truth is, Sam discovers that fraudulent mission files depict him as an unstable, violent and insubordinate agent.